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Now browsing: Hometown News > Opinion > St. Lucie County

Photographers connect with Nicaraguan youth (Three-Parts)
Rating: 2.97 / 5 (30 votes)  
Posted: 2012 Aug 23 - 23:00

Group of photographers connect with Nicaraguan youth

By Mitch Kloorfain

mkloorfain@hometownnewsol.com

We think we know poverty. For so many families in Nicaragua it appears the only thing they may actually own is their poverty status.

According to the United Nations Human Development Report for 2009, 80 percent of Nicaraguans live below the poverty line, earning less than $2 a day.

In May I was invited/chosen to attend a workshop with several international photographers as part of a group called The Giving Lens to work with the youth of Empowerment International in Grenada, Nicaragua, to teach them a skill in an effort to break the cycle of poverty and limited education.

The outcome was life changing for me, too.

Empowerment International offers community based educational programs to students and their families in addition to their schooling, not in lieu of.

The Giving Lens was founded by highly acclaimed, globe-trotting professional photographer Colby Brown.

The concept was to use photography as a form of community outreach in areas of extreme need.

So far, The Giving Lens has connected with Peru and Nicaragua and will bring photographers to Jordan and Israel later this year.

Because we live in such a giving community here on the Treasure Coast, my work partner, Wendy Dwyer, put out an "ask" to raise money to cover some of my expenses for this journey, as well as to create a surplus to make contributions to the Empowerment International. As usual, our community came through and made a difference in the lives of others.

Much like a pledge drive on PBS television, we offered print or digital images to those who contributed to the trip instead of a tote bag.

My 1,067-mile journey had me heading to Fort Lauderdale airport at 8 p.m. to be on an 11:40 p.m. flight that would have me there by 12:15 a.m. after factoring in the two- hour time difference in this small country in Central America.

The first day started with a meet and greet of the students and facilitators of Empowerment International. The students were very nervous as they made their much-rehearsed speeches to this group of strangers in English.

Armando, a student with EI, was given the responsibility of taking care of the catalog of cameras, batteries, memory cards, cases and managing the images on a small netbook computer.

The cameras were a collection of mostly older model point-n-shoots with almost no two alike.

Our first excursion was to walk to a park and work with the students on the basics of photography such as composition, color, texture and lighting.

The park was cement based with no grass, ball fields, swings or anything we are blessed to have our youth play on.

Four kids were there wearing Chicago White Sox and Aeropostale T-shirts that were apparently donated somewhere along the line to become part of their wardrobe.

They played by kicking a ball back and forth between them with as much energy as a gold-medal Olympic event.

I was teamed up with Armando and Anielka, a young 15-year-old girl, and a translator, Pamela, to help me communicate with them.

The styles of the photographers were so vastly different from one another I decided to guide them using the journalistic methods I use with Hometown News.

I "assigned" Armando and Anielka to shoot a series of images of a park, which could be used in a fictitious newspaper, to tell the story of the park in three completely different images.

After showing them some of the aspects of an engaging photo, such as shooting from a low angle, shooting tight to exclude distracting areas or backgrounds and using spots of color that speckled other areas of bland color to make them pop, I let them go. They came back to me with the story of the park through their eyes.

There was a look of pride in their eyes that came from knowing they had created something wonderful and completed their first assignment.

The office of Empowerment International was just up the block from our hotel. This is where we would spend each lunch and dinner for the rest of the week. Our meals were cooked by Carmen, a local woman who is connected by EI with her daughter being one of the facilitators.

We gathered like a large family with an instant connection to each other, laughing about the day's highlights, talking about the plans for the next few days while sharing an authentic, home-cooked meal.

At that time, the poverty I expected to see escaped me, but that would all change the next day as we toured their homes and neighborhoods.

This is the first of a three-part series. Mitch Kloorfain is chief photographer for Hometown News.

PART II

We didn't know it when we woke, but the students of Empowerment International in Granada, Nicaragua, were going to show the volunteer photographers with The Giving Lens the hard realities between our contrasting life styles.

Having already completed our introduction and first photo walk with the students, now it was time to walk a mile in their shoes.

Empowerment International is not where the students get their schooling. EI is a successful program that works with parents and youth to instill the value of education, as well as find solutions to the roadblocks that may prevent the youth from attending school.

After lunch we visited the EI facility where students were being tutored in reading and writing by other students only a few years older.

Don't picture a building with heavy double doors that leads into an air- conditioned hallway decorated with student work that then connects you to banks of classrooms with neat rows of desks and polished floors.

This building was dimly lit except for the area by the skylight. Benches lined the walls with students sitting along the perimeter.

As I was taking photographs of the students I felt water dripping on my back and head. It must have been a leaky roof, I thought. I looked up and realized the skylight was an opening in the ceiling and I was standing in a pit where the rain water was meant to drain.

The novelty of having it rain inside the building was absent to the students. They were focused. They were reading and the prideful smiles were genuine when they reached the end of their lessons successfully.

When we were preparing to leave for our last (and most emotionally lasting) part of our week we were introduced to Hobbes Ginsburg. (I know, I repeated his name in my head about three times, too).

Hobbes, 18, named for the iconic cartoon character from the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes, was a standout with his dyed blue hair, pierced lip, torn blue jeans and a Ramones 1974 concert T-shirt. Hobbes moved here with his parents from the United States several years earlier when they came to open a café. He spoke Spanish like a native and turned out to be an excellent conduit between The Giving Lens photographers and the students for the rest of the week.

I have been to the poorest sections of New York City, Fort Pierce, Stuart and Topeka, Kansas. I have read "National Geographic." Nothing prepared me for the next two hours of our journey.

The students from Empowerment International come from a locale referred to as the barrios or the neighborhood for us north of the border.

We started walking down a single road with homes of several students on each side.

The homes would have never passed code here in the US.

The average home had a wall or two of cinderblock, another formed by pieces of wood nailed together with the remaining walls made a few pieces of tin or aluminum. Barbed wire lined most of the property borders and didn't stop the kids from running near it or resting on it as we paraded through their neighborhood.

Out of courtesy, we always asked permission, in our broken Spanish, to photograph them or their children as we walked through.

We photographed mothers with their children, kids playing marbles and those who came running out to pose for a photo.

Each time, we showed them the photos we took on the backs of the cameras. Although it is unlikely they would see those imagers again, they couldn't have been happier to be photographed.

As we walked through the barrio I kept looking for where it ended. I never saw it.

Our neighborhoods of low-income housing can last for several blocks, however this never seemed to end. We walked for nearly two hours until our return vehicle met us. There was so much more ahead but we left with a large part of the barrio unvisited.

That evening, the photographers got together. As we discussed the day we attempted to process what we just witnessed.

It was unanimous that the residents we met in the barrios of Granada were generous to share themselves with us.

Those few miles we walked were life changing with respect to how I view poverty home and abroad and how naive my own perceptions and interpretations were before witnessing it in the barrios of Granada, Nicaragua.

I came here to teach photography. The ratio of what I have learned to what I have taught is greatly imbalanced.

PART III

The hardest part of planting a seed is waiting to see the growth of what that seed will produce.

During a trip to Nicaragua with The Giving Lens, a group of nine photographers were on board to teach students of Empowerment International the craft and skills of photography and plant seeds that will hopefully produce a great crop in the future.

We were in Granada, Nicaragua, for only a week, but in that short time we grew strong, life-long relationships as we honed their skills and techniques with cameras and by processing their images.

By the middle of the week we had climbed two volcanoes, Masaya and Mombacho, took a sunset tour on the water, practiced street photography in one of the local markets and returned to the barrio for a personal tour of the lives of the photography students.

These volcanoes are vast. They grow from the ground and don't stop until they are literally in the clouds.

Even though they see the volcanoes on their horizons, none of the students had ever made the journey in their own backyard where others have traveled thousands of miles to do so.

When we finally got to the top, we were met with heavier winds, much cooler temperatures and a visibility of about 100 feet to go with the rainy mist dampening our clothes.

The visiting photographers with The Giving Lens knew where we were going and dressed for it.

The students hiked the volcanoes in what they had which meant flip flops, second-hand dress shoes, thin T-shirts and maybe a borrowed extra shirt by someone who brought a spare.

We stopped at plants and flowers that caught a ray of sunlight, if just for a few moments, and showed the students how to use their cameras like magnifying glasses to create macro photos.

At an altitude of 4,400 feet we taught them to create interesting scenic landscape images by including a foreground element such as a unique rock, tree or other object on the hiking trail around the volcano's rim.

Another excursion took our entire group on two separate small boats zig- zagging Lake Nicaragua's sights during the prime late afternoon light and its connected, long late afternoon shadows.

Lake Nicaragua is speckled with hundreds of islands, some not much bigger than the singular house that sits upon them.

We wove between the islands with the help of an experienced boat guide who pointed out birds, monkeys and landmarks in Spanish.

It was thrilling to watch the students discover their new surroundings while also showing them how to capture and preserve them.

Due to some bad weather we were held back from taking a trip to another barrio where Empowerment International works with a smaller group of students in a very remote area. I was sorry to have missed meeting more of the group. Instead, the mid-afternoon rainstorms, much like Florida's, forced us inside to work with the students on organizing and editing images in the computer.

Images that are created only have value if they can be accessed and found later with an easy to navigate filing system.

After going over those basics and a few Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom skills to make the images pop, it was clear to see their understanding of these new concepts was making a difference in their workflow as photographers.

This time together ended up being the highlight of this journey second only to the family style meals we shared.

While several groups were working on the computers, another was setting up a gallery of framed images made by the students for an upcoming showcase of their work.

"For four years now I have dreamed of creating a tour where photographers could come and shoot alongside our kids and explore Nicaragua in unison, with the idea of an equal co-learning experience," said Kathy Adams, EI founder and executive director.

"For this to finally happen is a dream come true. The kids have not stopped talking about the tour and the participants that came seem to have been extremely impacted in a positive way. There is no doubt it was a win-win situation," she said.

As our days together were winding down we knew it would be difficult to say goodbye.

We ended our time together as it began, with public affirmations of what we all got out of our time together except for one difference. This time there were tears.

We came to plant the proverbial seeds of photography and these will grow, like any plant, with nurturing.

I saw the changes we made in a week. I look forward to additional growth in the next month, year and more.

If you want to be part of making a difference while also having them make a difference in you visit www.empowermentinternational.org and tell them The Giving Lens sent you.

Mitch Kloorfain is chief photographer for Hometown News. This is the last of a three-part series.

Here are several links from the team of photographers that contributed to the journey:

http://photosew.us/nicaragua

Mitch Kloorfain's images in Google+

Varina Patel on Google+

Jay Patel on Google+

Michael Bonocore on Google+

The Giving Lens on Google+

 

 

 




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